By Munina Lam, Correspondent
A crowd of Los Angeles Unified School District students, staff and community members gathered in the parking lot of Charles Drew Middle School in South Los Angeles on to witness the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Drew Student & Family Wellness Center on Wednesday afternoon.
The Wednesday, Oct. 12 ceremony started with a performance by children from Russell Elementary School before the speeches began. The common theme was the came up in the speakers’ speeches: addressing the community’s needs.
Ron Tanimura, LAUSD’s director of student medical services, said families in the Florence-Firestone area struggle just with locating a health provider to get their child immunized in time for school enrollment. He said the locations of new and planned wellness centers are chosen using LAUSD data that identifies communities as “service deserts.”
In service deserts, families lack access to medical services taken for granted in many other parts of Greater Los Angeles.
Florence-Firestone, an incorporated neighborhood outside of the Los Angeles city limits, has a population of 61,983, according to the U.S. Census, and 23.2% of its residents live in poverty. According to the California Department of Education, 98.3% of the Drew Middle School student population is socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Tanya Ortiz Franklin, District 7 LAUSD board member, who represents the community, thanked voters who long ago approved Measure Q on the November 2008 ballot. That $7 billion bond proposition, now forgotten by many voters, is funding the $7.7 million wellness center project at Drew Middle School.
She encouraged the students to vote, noting that their votes matter.
“You absolutely do deserve all the resources, all the love and support for your community,” Franklin said. “Anything you need, you should be able to get from your governmental institutions.”
The wellness center, open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., provides non-emergency services such as vaccinations, medical and dental services, and mental health counseling. The center will be run by LAUSD staff and personnel and will serve the 24 schools in the Rivera Community of Schools.
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The center takes walk-ins and online appointments as well as referrals from school staff members or social workers. Parents who may not be able to make it during the center’s opening hours may be referred to another provider that can accommodate their working schedule.
Services provided in the center are offered in multiple languages too, according to Elizabeth Rico, a wellness center staff member.